Leaf blowers and blower vacuums

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They're handy but noisy.

A leaf blower or blower-vacuum will quickly deal with dust, dirt and fallen leaves. We've tested how noisy and safe they are to use.

From our test

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What to look for

Leaf blowers produce a strong jet of air that blows away debris. Blower vacs do this too – and when set to vacuuming they can also suck up the debris, mulch it (to some extent), then deposit it in a collection bag.

Our test combines battery-electric (cordless) and petrol leaf blowers, along with mains-electric blower-vacuums. Leaf blowers are simpler and lighter because they only have one function, while blower-vacs have the added versatility of vacuuming. Unless you find bagging up leaves a real chore, we think most users will be happy with just a leaf blower. Converting to vacuum mode can be a hassle, and blower vacs are prone to clogging.

The best type for your needs will depend on the size and layout of your yard.

Power source

  • Battery-electric (cordless) leaf blowers now have enough power to make short work of cleaning up small- to medium-sized sections. They’re also lightweight, and free you from the hassle of a 2-stroke engine or extension cord. The major limitation is their running time. Generally, you’ll only get 10 to 20 minutes before needing to recharge, though you can always buy an extra battery. All the battery-powered blowers in our test are part of a “family” of other power tools. If you already own the battery and charger, you can save almost half the upfront cost by just buying the “skin” (tool only). Our reviews show prices for both kit (tool+battery+charger) and skin.

  • Petrol models are the best choice for large sections. They can also be used in wet weather, which we don’t recommend for mains-electric models because of the risk of shock. Most models have two-stroke engines, so there’s the added hassle of mixing petrol and oil, as well as unpleasant exhaust fumes. They’re harder to start than electric blower vacs as they almost always use a pull cord, and require more steps to convert between blower and vacuum modes. They’re also heavier.

  • Mains-electric blowers and blower vacs are the cheapest options, as you avoid the cost of a battery. However, they don’t perform as well as good battery or petrol models, and your range is hampered by the length of an extension cord.

Buying tips

  • Noise and safety: All leaf blowers and blower vacs in our test are loud enough to make you seriously unpopular if you break it out on Sunday morning. You’ll need hearing protection with any model louder than 85dBA, which is every model in our test bar one. We also recommend eye protection, as dust and debris can blow into your face. Mains-electric models must be used with an outdoor extension cord and powered through a residual current device (RCD).

  • Conversion time: Before you buy a blower vac, try converting the machine from blower to vacuum mode. This is often a more laborious process for petrol models, requiring a screwdriver to remove the safety cover and attach the vacuum tube and bag. On some models, the blower and vacuum tubes can be attached at the same time, or they’re connected together, so you can swap modes with the flick of a switch. But this makes the machine a couple of kilos heavier than average. Check the bag can be easily removed from the blower vac. Bags with a zipper for emptying are the most convenient.

  • Balance and weight: In the shop, pick up the machine and hold it with your dominant hand on the throttle, and your other hand on the front handle (if it has one). It should feel well-balanced and be easy to point and swing about, with the nozzle hovering just above the ground. For petrol models, try holding it with your other hand too, as many people find they need to frequently swap hands because of the vibration. Make sure it’s light enough to carry for extended periods, and remember that blower vacs get heavier as the big fills.

  • Nozzle and tube: Some blower vacs have swappable nozzles for blowing and vacuuming. It’s important the vacuum tube isn’t too narrow, as this can cause blockages. Some heavier models have a wheel at the end of the nozzle, which makes transport and vacuuming easier (see our table).

  • Blockage clearing: Check the tube is easy to remove if it gets blocked. On some models the tube can be removed by twisting, while others require a screwdriver.

  • Good vibrations: If you’re after a petrol model, we recommend asking to try it out to see if you’re comfortable with its vibration. All the petrol leaf blowers and blower vacs in our test, apart from the Echo PB2155, were let down by their levels of vibration, uncomfortable enough that we had to frequently switch hands. This isn’t an issue with mains or battery models.

  • Controls and starting: Check controls are easy to use – we recommend models with a trigger lock, as holding down the trigger can get tiring. Electric models all have push-button starts, which are easier to use than the pull cords on petrol models. Check the handle(s) are comfortable for you.

  • Attachments: Some manufacturers offer a variety of attachments and add-ons – everything from long, hooked tubes for cleaning gutters, to narrow nozzles to boost blowing power. Also available are systems which allow you to connect a long reticulated hose to your blower vac, so you can empty leaves directly into a bin, removing the need to haul a bag around with you.

Mulching

A selling point for blower vacs over leaf blowers is their ability to mulch collected leaves, which reduces the volume of waste. The mulch can then be spread on your garden to improve soil health. Many manufacturers claim “mulch ratios” upwards of 10:1 (i.e. 10 bags of loose leaves reduce to one bag of fine mulch). But take these claims with a grain of salt – in previous tests we found the ratios to be closer to 4:1, especially with densely packed or wet debris.

Look for models with a metal impeller (fan) rather than plastic – they’re more effective at chopping up leaves and thereby reducing the volume of waste, and they’re more durable. Some models feature “mulching knives” on the impeller to aid in chopping up the material.

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